Face Frame Cabinet Building Tips

Advice from the pros

Label your face frame parts first

Build the Cabinets, Buy the Doors

Building cabinet doors is doable but can be tricky. It sometimes requires powerful and expensive wood-shaping equipment. And if you have a bunch to build, you'll need a lot of clamps and even more space. Unless you have unlimited free time, consider building your cabinets but buying your doors. You'll find many door makers online (search for “buy cabinet doors”). Cabinet doors can be ordered in a variety of styles and in increments as small as 1/16 in. It's always nice to be able to see and touch, so check out your local cabinet shop as well.

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Assemble the face frame with pocket screws

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Leave off the back until you apply finish

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Trim some face frames flush

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Gang up on your components

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Leave the end stile off to scribe

Leave one end stile off when you install cabinets that butt against walls at both ends. With a complete face frame, you won't be able to push the cabinet into place or scribe and adjust the stile to fit. Cut that last stile a bit oversize to leave room for scribing, and rip a 45-degree back bevel for easier planing to your scribed line. The bevel also makes it easier to twist the stile into place.

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Nail the face frame to the boxes

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Build face frames larger

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Don't cut rabbets if they're not needed

Don't Settle For What's in the Home Center

Home centers and lumberyards typically have only a few cabinet- grade plywood options in stock, but almost all of them can order what you need. You can order sheets with more plies for stability; pick the orientation of the wood grain; buy sheets with hardwood on one side and melamine on the other; choose marine-grade plywood for outdoor projects … the options go on and on.

It takes a little planning ahead, and ask about minimum orders, but don't limit yourself to oak if you really want cherry.

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Build a separate base

Most factory-built cabinets have a recessed “toe-kick” that's typically about 4 in. high and deep. But you can also make a separate base that's the total length of the cabinet assembly and build shorter cabinets to make up the difference. With this method, you won't have to mess around with figuring out and cutting toe-kick profiles on your cabinets.

This is also a handy technique when you have an uneven floor because you need to level and shim only one base instead of several individual cabinets.

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Build individual boxes

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Cap end cabinets

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Clamps
  • Miter saw
  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Cordless drill
  • Circular saw
  • Caulk gun
  • Planer
  • Level
  • Framing square
  • Hearing protection
  • Orbital sander
  • Pocket hole jig
  • Router
  • Safety glasses
  • Scribing tool
  • Table saw
  • Wood glue

You'll also need a flush trim router bit.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • 3/4-in. hardwood plywood
  • 1/4-in. hardwood plywood
  • 3/4-in. hardwood for face frames
  • 2x4 lumber for bases
  • 2” screws
  • 2” brads
  • Wood filler
  • Finish
  • Construction adhesive